The documentary “The Pink Tablet” begins, appropriately enough, with a shot of someone writing on a pink piece of paper.
After the title card and and a letterpress print proclaiming “Write the poems!,” a voiceover begins.
“Sister said/If you make yourself up/You’ll never be lonely/You’ll speak to howlers/With your mind.”
This piece comes from Spokane poet Ellen Welcker’s “The Pink Tablet,” a collection of poems she released earlier this year.
The documentary, directed by Spokane’s Kendra Ann Sherrill, explores Welcker’s work and the “feral opera” – part theater, part dance, part song – she created to release the collection in lieu of a typical poetry reading.
“The Pink Tablet,” the documentary, came together in just 10 weeks as part of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Fly Filmmaking Challenge.
The film will be screened at the festival on Monday and June 6. A Q&A with the filmmakers will follow the screenings.
The documentary began to take shape after Sherrill received an email from SIFF in January telling her she was one of six filmmakers from across the state nominated to participate in the challenge.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in SIFF in some capacity, so this is the first film that’s been a part of it, which is super exciting,” she said. “I was really excited to take it as a challenge and I was honored to be asked.”
Sherrill, the only filmmaker from the Spokane area invited to participate in the challenge, is joined by Jeff Barehand, of Olympia, Graham Bourque, of Ellensburg, Myisa Plancq-Graham and Elliat Graney-Saucke, both of Seattle, and Masahiro Sugano, of Tacoma.
As a producer/editor at North by Northwest Productions, Sherrill is in charge of “Washington Grown,” a TV show that highlights the state’s diverse food scene.
Most of what she calls her passion projects though are narrative stories, so she was intrigued by the idea of creating a short documentary.
Before they selected the subjects of their documentaries, Sherrill and the other filmmakers first had to choose an artistic discipline to focus on.
“That was kind of nerve-wracking, but I knew that Spokane’s poetry scene is such a huge deal for our arts community so I wanted to represent that,” she said. “They also made it clear that they wanted all of our films to be a hometown pride-type thing, and I wanted to promote Spokane’s poetry scene.”
Sherrill reached out to friends from a variety of arts disciplines and poets she knew and asked for recommendations of poets she could feature.
Time and time again, Welcker’s name came up.
“I researched her a little bit and I remembered reading about ‘The Pink Tablet’ performance in the Spokesman and the Inlander,” Sherrill said. “The seed was planted a couple months ago but then when her name kept popping up and I made that connection, I was like ‘This is the perfect woman for me.’ ”
Once Sherrill and Welcker met, Sherrill found they were very similar, creatively and personality-wise.
“We worked really well together,” Sherrill, who also acts as the assistant director of the Spokane International Film Festival, said. “She was very gracious to let me into her world for a little bit.”
Welcker sent Sherrill a copy of “The Pink Tablet,” the poetry collection, before Sherrill began filming, which inspired some of the visual elements in the documentary.
Because she was invited to participate in the Fly Filmmaking Challenge after “The Pink Tablet” was performed, Sherrill wasn’t able to get firsthand footage of the show.
But Rebecca Chadwell, who helped produce and design the performances, gave Sherrill access to her own footage from the show, which Sherrill then incorporated into the documentary.
The documentary also features archival footage, shots of Riverfront Park and close up shots of paint mixing together.
“Since poetry isn’t the most tangible of art forms, and I didn’t really want to do a documentary showing her sitting and writing, I wanted to make it visually stimulating as well,” Sherrill said.
Until the very end of the film, the viewer only sees brief glimpses of Welcker – her hands holding a whale-printed coffee mug, Welcker uncrossing and recrossing her feet.
Sherrill wanted the viewer to focus on what Welcker had to say, a script Sherrill and Welcker wrote together, rather than the poet herself. Sherrill said Welcker, who doesn’t like being the center of attention, was immediately on board with the idea.
To make the documentary even more visually stimulating, Sherrill chose to incorporate the work of yet another local artist, Breanna White, owner of Typebee Printshop, into the film.
White’s letterpress prints are scattered throughout the documentary, emblazoned with things like “You can be a poet. So be one,” “A world of our own creation” and “And it mattered.”
Though the documentary, which Sherrill plans on submitting to other festivals and hopes to show in Spokane at some point, focuses on Welcker, she’s proud she was able to use it to show the breadth of Spokane’s art scene.
“I wanted to make it as collaborative as possible with all of what Spokane artists have to offer,” she said.
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